New Zealand Travel Itinerary
I’ve received a lot of questions about my trip to New Zealand so it’s definitely time to share a bit about my experience and my favorite areas of it. I traveled to New Zealand with neutral expectations. I heard that it was absolutely breathtaking, but also that it could be overcrowded and overrated. Going into it with mixed reviews, I was absolutely blown away! It quickly became one of my favorite travel destinations. I found it not only extremely easy to travel in, but that the mix of being easy to navigate, plenty of fun areas to hang out in and easy access to a ton of gorgeous views, outdoor activities and just overall beauty made it my top destination of 2019.
North Island Vs. South Island
We decided to stick to the North Island for this trip so that we could focus on it and not drive too much every day. If you’re interested in tropical beaches, wineries and beautiful rolling hills then the South Island might be your vibe! I definitely need to visit and travel through the South Island one of these days. The North Island is more known for its mountains, gorgeous lakes and amazing hikes, which is what we were after for this trip.
We decided to campervan for 18 days and to do it we used the company Mad Camperz, which provided us with two campervans for the four of us. The campervan life takes a couple of days to get used to, but it really is the best way to get around. New Zealand also makes it super easy to campervan with plenty of free campsites, as well as super reasonably priced ones. We used the app CamperMate to find the best rest stops around.
Traveling New Zealand was surprisingly affordable. The biggest cost factor of course is the campervan and gas was definitely on the expensive side — About $80 NZD to fill up the tank. That being said, if you’re traveling from the US, the US dollar is a lot stronger than the New Zealand dollar right now, making everything a lot cheaper. On top of that, if you’re campervaning there’s a lot of cheap or free spots to park and sleep for the night. If you’re not, then there are also quite a few reasonably priced Air BnBs and hotels around.
Getting to New Zealand
I found that the cheapest way to get to New Zealand was to fly to Auckland first, which is on the South Island and then from there fly to Christchurch. I ended up spending the night in Auckland and had the day to explore the city a bit. If you spend any time there then make sure to check out Giapo, which had some of the craziest flavors of ice cream like Guacamole! After going on a little foodie tour around Auckland I made my way to the airport to meet up with the other two members of our campervan family and we flew to Christchurch!
Lake Tepako and Lake Pukaki
From Christchurch we spent the night at a close by free campsite and the next morning went straight to Lake Tepako, which wasn’t more than a couple of hours away. This place was so outrageously beautiful, the water looks like gatorade and the time of year that we went (December, which is NZ summer), the lupins were in full bloom! It really was one of the most stunning sights. Lake Pukaki is also close by and is quite a looker as well. I recommend driving around it for some super scenic views.
Mount Cook National Park
The view of Mount Cook is something you need to see for yourself, but this park pretty much has 360 views and there’s so much to do! One of the highlights of this trip for me was Tasman Glaciar! It’s not too hard of a hike and gives you breathtaking views of the mountains and glacial lake. We went for sunrise to watch the sun rise over the mountains. The whole place reminded me of something straight out of Lord of the Rings. If you’re brave enough, then take a dip in the glacial lake! I only was able to get half way in.
We also did the quick Hooker Valley trek, which is really an easy walk with some seriously gorgeous views. You get to cross some really cool bridges, a boardwalk and apparently there’s a beautiful lake at the end, but we didn’t know that and stopped at the boardwalk.
From Mt. Cook National Park we took off towards Roy’s Peak, which is close to Lake Wanaka. This hike isn’t for the faint of heart, as it’s pretty much constant very steep switch backs for two and a half hours. That being said, I thought it’d be way worse than it was. It helps to have a few people to chat and laugh with while your body struggles the uphill battle, but it is definitely a manageable hike and I saw some little kids and older gentleman coming down when we were going up. We wanted to catch the sunset up there so we started the hike at around 6pm (sunset during the summer is around 9:30pm).
The view from the top was definitely worth the struggle and I felt like I really accomplished something by making it all the way! If you want to catch sunset then make sure to take headlamps, because you’ll be walking back in the dark. A lot of people think that Roy’s Peak is super crowded, but we actually found no one up there.
The town of Wanaka is super cute with a bunch of really quaint cafe’s and restaurants. It’s definitely a good place to sleep and get some food, not to mention that the famous Wanaka Tree is there.
Queenstown and Surroundings
After all this nature it was pretty nice to get back into some civilization and Queenstown delivers in good times! It’s a cute town with some seriously beautiful views of its own. We decided to spend a night going out and bar hopping and ended up at some fun bars. Queenstown is definitely a lively place at night with tons of restaurants, clubs and bars open late into the night. That was all fun and good, but it was the food in Queenstown that really stole my heart.
My Favorite Places to Eat in Queenstown
They have the best veggie burger I’ve ever had! There was a line out the door at 3 in the morning and for good reason. This place is definitely infamous and worth a stop even if it’s not in the wee hours of the morning.
Yonder was my favorite place to get work done, because they had super fast WIFI! Something you’ll figure out about New Zealand pretty quickly is that the WIFI isn’t generally the best so any place with supreme WIFI has my vote. On top of that, the food is pretty great and they have your choice of draft beer of coffee (whichever you’re in the mood for). My favorite part was that they had a quiet section designated for people working on their laptops (where they wouldn’t bother you or ask if you wanted anything else).
Ok, I got a little obsessed with this place. Their red velvet pancakes are actually to die for and their coffee is excellent. I ended up making everyone go back with me at least four times.
Side note: Around Queenstown there’s also the Onsen Hot Pools. If you want to experience this spa, make sure to call way in advance, because they get booked out. You pretty much get to soak in a wooden tub, look at gorgeous New Zealand views and sip on champagne, what more could you ask for?'
Fjordland National Park and Milford Sound
This place is insane and needs to be on your list. It’s like something out of Jurassic park and is one of the coolest places I’ve ever been to. When we were there, there was a constant moody fog which actually added to the mysteriousness of this area. My favorite was driving through the park’s roads and seeing the hundreds of waterfalls streaming down on both sides of us.
Don’t forget to look out for the Kea, which are New Zealand’s notoriously mischievous alpine parrots. They’re only protected in the park so they’re known to congregate all around, land on your car and wreck havoc (kidding, they were pretty friendly, but definitely looked like they could cause trouble.)
Note: Be ready for the sand flies here! They’re pretty terrible and I consider them worse than mosquitos. They’ll initially bite you, which actually really hurts and then the next day you’ll be covered in red, itchy bumps. Make sure you wear insect repellent and if possible, long sleeves!
The famous Milford Sound is at the end of the road in Fiordland National Park. Note that there’s no way through the park, you have to drive in and then drive back out. Out of all of the crazy views in Fiordland, Milford Sound wasn’t my favorite, but it definitely is worth seeing.
We ended up spending two nights here and took a boat cruise on one of the days through the sound. This is a pretty cool experience to see some cliff side waterfalls and even baby seals!
Note: Don’t expect to have good WIFI here! The only place that has WIFI is the one campsite in the area and you have to pay an arm and a leg for it. It’s also extremely slow since it’s satellite.
Accommodations: Your options pretty much are paying for a campsite which actually is really nice with a good restaurant, hot showers and WIFI (sort of). Your other option is to chance it in the parking lot, which a bunch of people were doing. We went with the later option and never had an issue, but do it at your own risk.
Our Heli Tours Queenstown ride was the last activity we did in New Zealand before heading back to drop off our camper van. It was also one of the most surreal experiences of the trip! Soaring over mountain tops and lakes that are impossible to hike to was a once in a lifetime experience. On top of that Heli Tours lets us stop off in multiple locations like Milford Sound, on top of a glacier and on top of a mountain with a crazy view of a lake below.
Fox Glaciar Area
On our way back to Christchurch, we decided to go through Arthur’s Pass to see the Fox Glacier area. We were on a bit of a time crunch so didn’t get to stop at too many places, but we were able to walk through and look at the infamous Blue Pools. It was a bright and sunny day and I actually convinced myself to get in and swim around! It was some of the coldest water I’ve ever swam in, but it’s actually super refreshing. The hike to the first blue pool isn’t more than a mile and is super easy. This is definitely recommended if you want to see some crazy blue water.
Even though we were in New Zealand for 18 days, I left feeling like I could come back right away! That being said 18 days definitely felt like a long enough time to see everything we wanted to with some days of chilling in between so we weren’t rushing from place to place!